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The mouth-body connection: What your dentist knows about your overall health

"A" icon to represent Aetna By Aetna

You may have heard of the mind-body connection: how physical and mental health overlap and influence each other. But do you know about the mouth-body connection? What goes on in your mouth can actually affect the rest of your body. And what goes on in your body can lead to telling changes in your oral health.

For many people, a dental visit is about getting a professional cleaning or filling a cavity ― and nothing more. But your dentist is also looking for clues to your general health. He or she may even discover signs of illness before you or your primary care physician is aware of them. Here are just a few examples:

Diabetes and gum disease

Gum disease can increase blood sugar levels. As a result, people with gum disease are more likely to become diabetic than those with healthy mouths. If you already have diabetes, you’re at greater risk of being diagnosed with gum disease. Diabetics should also be aware that gum disease can make blood sugar harder to control and increase your risk of complications.

Heart disease and oral health

Studies show that people with gum disease are at increased risk of heart disease. Poor oral health may also make existing heart conditions worse ― which is why some patients need to take antibiotics before dental procedures. In fact, gum disease may make you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. By taking care of your teeth and gums, you’re also caring for your heart.  

Pregnancy and dental care

Pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to experience premature labor compared to women with healthy gums. The good news is that pregnant women who care for their mouths are helping to protect their babies against cavity-causing bacteria, too.

Researchers are examining other illnesses ― such as pneumonia and certain cancers ― to see how dental health plays a role. But there’s no question that good oral care lowers your risk of serious health conditions and saves you money.

That’s why Aetna introduced the groundbreaking Dental/Medical Integration program (DMI), which combines members’ dental and medical records to make identifying potential chronic conditions easier. Over the last 10 years, program members who received dental care experienced better health outcomes and lower medical costs . And that should make you smile.